The recent desertion of a young officer from the Polisario rebel group to join Morocco is the latest sign of the weakening and decline of the Algeria backed guerilla movement.
Rabat – Long before the start of the political unrest and protests in Algiers, the Sahrawis of Tindouf began their revolt against the ever-increasing corrupt, self-serving, and tribal policies of their “leader” Ibrahim Ghali.
As the situation worsens in the Camps, Morocco appears unprepared to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to reassure its Sahrawi citizens to return home. This episode should serve as a wake-up call for Moroccan authorities to set up programs to help defectors find a way to escape to Morocco or Mauritania where they can be processed for resettlement.
The crisis in Algeria poses not just widespread political, but also economic and security, implications on Algerians as well as Sahrawis who live on international aid. The social upheaval in its neighbor to the east should not distract Rabat from its main mission to read, analyze and act on signs of possible mass desertions from Tindouf.
Indeed, recent events in Sahrawi camps, including the desertion of the young officer, reveal the extent of the political turmoil in Algiers on the moral and dedication of Polisario fighters.
There has been widespread discontent in the ranks of the Polisario Militia for a long while, especially since the death of some militiamen due to medical neglect last year. This incident led to protests around the refugee camps and calls for the resignation of high-ranking members of the armed group.
Before that, more than thirty members of a security service called “National Gendarmerie” went on strike to protest their living conditions, meager salary, and the dwindling numbers of their force. According to sources in Shahid El Hafed where the strikers took refuge back in September, there has been an ongoing dispute between senior leaders of the Polisario over control of resources and funds of some armed units.
Furthermore, the escape recently pulled off by drug traffickers from Polisario’ s facilities in Imhiriz and Tifariti rocked the camps and exposed the level of corruption and collusion between members of the organization and drug lords active in the Sahara and the Sahel regions.
These incidents show Polisario’ s abandonment of its fighters and its leadership loss of control in the camps. There is a feeling in Tindouf that Ibrahim Ghali lost his compass, revolutionary and ideological, and that he is unable to lead.
Given the volume of information that the Sahrawi and Spanish press have circulated about the level of disgruntlement among the Sahrawis military and civilian, an inevitable question is whether Moroccan intelligence officials have viable, sufficient and reliable plans to encourage, seduce and convince fighters to leave Tindouf.
The unprecedented level of political and military interdependence between the Algerian military and the Polisario and the shaky political environment in Algiers are making some rebel leaders think about jumping ship and joining the Moroccan Sahara.
Algerian and Polisario propaganda has misrepresented the truth about life in the Moroccan Sahara. The Kingdom, unfortunately, has done an average job highlighting the true situation in Laayoune, Dakhla, and Smara.
The return of the 29- year-old “Captain” who drove his military vehicle and surrendered to Moroccan official is a significant event. While this type of desertion is the first in many years, it came at a sensitive time for the Polisario and the Algerian military.
Decades of poor governance, mismanagement of international aid and tribal favoritism have given birth to a wave of dissent, rage, and disillusion with the revolutionary dream of an independent state. Today, thousands of Sahrawis including members of the armed militia are ready to leave the harsh conditions of the refugee camps for a normal life in the Moroccan controlled Sahara.
The Moroccan intelligence community needs to organize centralized teams that can work across multiple agencies. It must avoid the fragmentation of information, skills, and operations that can lead to failures. Rabat can successfully tackle the challenges in Tindouf if members of its intelligence organizations work hand in hand as one team and use and share all analytic resources and reports about conditions on the ground.